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Easy Ideas Make Lessons More Engaging—and Effective

by Jo-Anne Bowen, PhD

Want to rev up the meter on how much your students learn in Project ALERT? Here are several simple strategies.


When I’m giving a training session on Project ALERT, I suggest that at the beginning of each class teachers share with students their proximal goal for the lesson—which some educators refer to as a learning target. In Core Lesson One, for example, the goal is to explore the reasons why young people make a decision about whether or not to smoke. Stating the goal engages students in sharing responsibility for achieving it. According to research, this results in an increased retention rate of more than twenty-five percent. It’s such a simply strategy, but highly effective.


I’ve also learned that planting visual images in students’ minds helps them understand consequences. If you compare experiencing the nicotine high of smoking to running on a treadmill, students will have a visual image of forever running in place, trying harder and harder to get to that nicotine high. This is the time to remind them that the younger people are when they start to smoke, the more quickly they become addicted—while the longer you wait to try your first cigarette, the more likely you are to never start.


Sometimes we finish a Project ALERT lesson with a few minutes to spare. Don’t waste this opportunity to keep students involved with the subject matter and reinforce what they’ve been learning. You can create a game like Pictionary to help teach facts about alcohol or other drugs by using facts in place of pictures. When you’ve got those few minutes, pull out the game and review one or two facts. It helps keep students on task and also extends their learning.


These small bites of time are also ideal for sharing new information about topics covered in class. I keep a file of articles that appear in the news to reinforce what we’re discussing in the classroom. The Project ALERT website also has the latest information and statistics, so check it frequently.


New research is coming out all the time. For example, we now know that the marijuana commonly available today is so powerful that smoking one joint a day is equal to smoking five cigarettes. For a long time we thought that marijuana caused only dependency and that it was nicotine in cigarettes that caused addiction. But new research shows that marijuana causes both addiction and dependency.


Here’s another interesting finding. Most young people are compassionate toward animals, and they’ll be surprised by new research showing that second-hand smoke harms pets. An estimated 50,000 Americans die annually from the effects of second hand smoke, but in addition, dogs living in smoking households have a 60 percent greater likelihood of getting lung cancer. They’re also at risk of developing nasal cancer, while cats in smoking households are three times more likely than other cats to get cancer.


Involving students in achieving a class goal, using visuals, playing your special Pictionary, and sharing the latest findings about drugs may seem like simple classroom strategies, but you’ll find they make your course even more interesting—and unforgettable.

<p><span>Canadian native Jo-Anne Bowen serves as the state of Washington&rsquo;s Project ALERT trainer and has conducted training sessions for the program nationally since 1991. A former junior and senior high science and health teacher, she also works as a consultant in the Vancouver, Washington, public schools. She received her doctorate in education from the University of Oregon.</span></p> <!--StartFragment--><!--EndFragment-->

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